Alleging that Apple Inc. charges significant amounts of real money for products integrated into iPhone and iPad apps and games for children, a group of parents has filed a federal class action suit in California.
The suit claims that Apple induces children to download games by making them free and then designs the games to be “addictive” so that children pay real money for “game currency.” Children can take advantage of the fact that once they enter an iTunes password, they have a 15-minute window to make purchases without having to reenter their information, according to the complaint. Garen Meguerian, the lead plaintiff, claims that his 9-year-old daughter downloaded free games, including “Zombie Café,” “Treasure Story,” and “City Story,” and then spent approximately $200 in game currency for “Zombie Toxin,” “Gems,” and “City Cash” in the span of a few weeks, without his knowledge. In another example, the suit references “Smurfs’ Village,” a free game where the object is to build a virtual village. The construction process is greatly sped up by the purchase of “Smurfberries,” which cost real money and can be purchased in quantities of 50, for $4.99, up to 1,000, for $59.
“These games are highly addictive, designed deliberately so, and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase or more,” according to the complaint. Many games, the suit claims, are designed to encourage the purchase of game currency “if the game is to be played with any success.” The suit seeks to certify a nationwide class, alleges violations of California’s law banning deceptive practices and fraudulent business acts, and requests restitution for the plaintiffs.
To read the complaint in Meguerian v. Apple, click here.
Why it matters: The suit notes that the Federal Trade Commission planned to investigate the allegations after Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) all sent letters to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz asking the agency to investigate the games. In a response to Rep. Markey’s letter, Leibowitz said the FTC would “look closely at the current industry practice with respect to the marketing and delivery of these types of applications. We fully share your concern that consumers, particularly children, are unlikely to understand the ramifications of these types of purchases.” Apple subsequently began requiring password reentry for all individual transactions and also added a warning to users that free games might contain in-app content for sale. “Nevertheless, Apple continues to sell game currency to minors,” the suit argues.